Yes, no trains (high-speed or otherwise) are yet scheduled to stop at the station, and I haven’t heard any indication that Greyhound buses will even use it, but the station itself is a mighty impressive building.
Its use as a space for community functions and meetings of local organizations appears to be its best and highest role, at least in the near future. Standing in the center of the main waiting room Monday, I chatted briefly with Evelyn Tolbert, she of the City Council. Evelyn voiced a strong desire for the city to keep its rental rates for the facility at the lowest possible levels to encourage robust use.
The balancing act between fees and use is nothing new for the city, which is trying to cover at least some of its costs and keep rates low at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts, the Tracy Community Center, the Lolly Hansen Senior Center, ball fields and other venues. The right balance for a municipal government serving the community must lean toward greater use rather than higher revenue.
A few minutes after talking to Evelyn, I chatted briefly with Jimmy Dameron, the retired Southern Pacific engineer who has a greater-than-average interest in Tracy railroad history.
As we kicked around the location of the new transit station near the site of the former SP station — everyone called it the SP depot — we both came up short in answering the question: What ever happened to that earlier station?
Jimmy remembered tearing up some of the tracks in the original switching yard surrounding the depot after the yard was moved east of town in 1961. But the fate of the station wasn’t fixed in his mind — nor in mine, for that matter.
We had to agree that the wood-frame depot building was torn down, probably in a matter of hours, as the SP started dismantling facilities in the original yard area, including the roundhouse, “shops” and buildings that housed trainmaster and roadmaster offices.
I can remember taking photos of the ghost-like roundhouse area at that time, but by then, the station was gone.
That station, on the south side of the main line from Martinez, was actually Tracy’s second SP depot. The original station, constructed soon after the railroad founded Tracy in 1878, faced south on the north side of the Altamont line.
When the second depot was constructed — probably around the turn of the 20th century — the original depot was used for other railroad functions off C Street, which for many years was the main crossing route before Central Avenue was extended. The first station was eventually demolished.
The second station included, from east to west, a small crew-dispatcher’s room, the ticket office and the communications and billing center.
The photos that accompany today’s column are all we have remaining of the original SP stations — er, depots.
Cliff Seal, who was SP passenger agent at the second depot for three decades, told of the 1920s, when 27 passenger trains passed in and out of Tracy every day. The busy passenger-rail day started at 4 a.m. with the arrival of “the paper train” carrying newspapers from San Francisco, and ended with the Owl passing through at 8:45 p.m. en route down the West Side line toward Los Angeles.
Even if high-speed rail trains eventually do call at the local depot — er, transit station — there’s little likelihood there will be 27 trains a day. A smaller number traveling without the noise of the old steam engines, though, would be a welcome circumstance.
If that ever occurs, the trains could run through the Bow Tie area on submerged tracks that would allow north-south streets — MacArthur Drive, Central Avenue and Tracy Boulevard — to pass overhead without overpasses. At least that’s one possibility being considered by high-speed rail planners.
There are still a number of “ifs” in all of this, but one element is certain: The new Tracy Transit Station has been completed and stands at the corner of Sixth and Central, ready to serve whatever comes its way.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.